When I had a few months left before leaving New York, I decided to make list of all of the things I wanted to do before I left. I know this is called a bucket list, but I think the phrase “bucket list” is stupid and embarrassing. It reminds me of people who read those 1,000 Places To See Before You Die books or are Australian or say things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I’d rather sleep during my afternoon nap than have to wait till I’m dead.
So, I made an experiential to-do list and read it aloud to my roommate while she was trying to do something else. After I had finished, she asked, “Is there anything new that you want to do?” She had a point. Almost every experience was one I had already experienced, most of them many times, some within the last day. It included Prospect Park, the/a beach, dancing, Sly Fox, and “a show!” The one new thing was “Statue of Liberty,” which was also the only item that had a “maybe :/” next to it. But the thing was, I didn’t want to do new things. I wanted to do more of the things I liked. A list that was all new would be like a dying person saying, “I want to spend my last days making small talk with strangers instead of hanging out with the friends I love.” I wanted to spend my last days hanging out with the friends I love, not finally going to the Natural History Museum.
The idea was always to write the most perfectly self-conscious Leaving New York Essay™. To strike some kind of balance between a Joan Didion ripoff and an Awl satire of a Joan Didion ripoff. Did anyone ever move to New York just to write a leaving New York essay? I’m here to tell you that someone did. The idea of even feeling the need to write a LNYE (pronounced len-yee) is weird because it suggests that you need to explain yourself to New York, when the nice thing about a city is that it doesn’t need your explanation. As much as Sex and The City wanted us to think it, New York isn’t your boyfriend. Not least because New York is obviously female.
Since New York isn’t your dumb boyfriend, it’s free to be perfect, and New York is perfect. There is nothing more New York than New York itself, which you can’t say for everywhere. For example: there’s nothing more Napa than Tuscany, and there’s nothing more San Francisco than hell. New York is especially itself in the summer. For a person from the West Coast this is exemplified by the wholly foreign concept of warm nights. Everything is hazy, lazy, sweating with strangers on the subway platform. Watching the day fade into the long blue nights while you’re playing it as it lays on the book of common prayer. The first time I ever came to New York was in the summer. I was 20 and my dad and I had driven from Seattle to meet my mom at this East Village duplex we had somehow rented for three weeks. I still consider this the happiest time of my life. I was taking a lot of Percocet due to a wisdom teeth extraction that had gone terribly awry, but there was more to it than that. Besides powerful narcotic medication, a confluence of factors came together to make me more susceptible to New York than I would have been at another time: A terrible haircut had finally grown out, but the strength of character that comes from enduring a terrible haircut remained. My longtime boyfriend and I had broken up, and I was deeply interested in a Canadian who may or may not have just gotten deported. (Was anyone ever so dumb? I’m here to tell you that someone was.) I was headed into my senior year of college having emerged from a lonely junior year filled with insomnia and sweatpants. Someone had informed me that writing can be a viable career option.
That was the beginning of my life in New York even though I wouldn’t move there for another four years. The city instantly made sense to me in a way no other place had. I lived in San Francisco before coming to New York, and when I was leaving people would ask if I would miss it. I couldn’t understand what they meant. Who could miss a city? Now I know who.
What I’ll miss most about New York are the small things, which New York manages to imbue with a cinematic quality that keeps you here. Riding the subway has never ceased to feel cool to me. Although, riding the morning L train with 1,000 other 28-year-olds shoving each other so that they can get to their graphic design job first has never ceased to feel embarrassing. The high of being asked which direction 6th Avenue is and knowing the answer. Not just wearing shoes but ruining their lives. Walking outside on winter mornings and being like “Why do I live here?” and then looking over at the shivering person walking next to me and them looking away. The party starting at nine and no one showing up till one. The party starting at nine and no one showing up at all because there are like eight other, better parties. Sleeping over at friends’ apartments, which is something I did in New York even though I have my own apartment and am not eleven. Rising up out of the ground as the Q train heads over the bridge toward Brooklyn and looking at the graffiti and laundry strung up on the roofs. Roofs. The only heaven I can imagine is drinking beer on a Brooklyn roof at magic hour as you watch the sun turn gold over the Manhattan skyline. The Manhattan skyline! Returning to New York after being away and getting that first glimpse of the pointy buildings and being like, “Yas kweeeeeeen!” Seeing celebrities, unless they are models. The worst thing about New York is accidentally sitting next to a model on the subway and then spending the whole ride trying to make your appendages look longer. The best thing about New York is the talking. I recently had two west coasters say things like, New York is great, but all people do there is sit in bars and talk. Can you imagine anything better?
Thanks to all this perfection, New York is a good place to hone your jealousy. Even when you live here it usually feels like peering in from Jersey City. In New York there are at any one time, 6,000 people who are better than you at the only thing you’re good at. You’re at once special and the opposite of that. How many special people fit on the head of a pin? It depends: The more special people the smaller and more insane each one gets.
At some point, I got to this place where I started saying things like “I got to this place.” It was also a place where I didn’t want to work at Buzzfeed but was also jealous of people who worked at Buzzfeed. This both wanting to and not wanting to work at Buzzfeed is a pretty impossible position to be in in New York. I realized that you can spend your whole life being bitter about Buzzfeed or you can leave New York and never think about Buzzfeed again or only think about it in the way that regular people do, which is like, “Oh, that thing.” I’m not trying to demean the thoughtful journalism that people do at Buzzfeed. I’m trying to say I don’t want a job at Buzzfeed but am furious that I also can’t have one.
Working in media in New York is like working at a restaurant: After awhile it gets hard to eat the food. Writing for a fashion magazine was the fulfillment of a childhood dream. What do you do when you realize your childhood dreams weren’t very well informed? In my case, you spend six months not leaving your apartment. Then you decide to move back to Washington and become a nurse. I know a lot of people will have questions about this like, What is Washington? and, Which way is 6th Avenue? I can answer the latter. Geographical cures aren’t permanent, but there’s nothing like a new place to wake you up for six months. After that you’re on your own. It seems like the whole point of travel is to come home again. And I’m ready to make my point.
When I told someone that I was changing my whole life—you only get so many chances at melodrama—they asked how old I was. When I said I was 28 they said that made sense because of something called the Saturn Return, which basically means that every 30 years you have to make a huge change or risk lifelong anxiety. I’m no stranger to anxiety, but I liked this idea because it made me feel good about what what I had already decided to do, which I think is the point of astrology. At some point you start to know yourself and one thing that I’ve learned, which is contrary to what I’ve said in every job interview I’ve had since I was 15, is that I am not a fast learner. I spent six months describing a certain dish at the restaurant where I work as “little fried dough pieces” and wondering why no one ever ordered it. I’m a slow learner, because I learn by feeling my way around in the dark instead of listening when someone tells me where the light switch is. You can learn a lot of interesting things this way, but I’ll tell you, it takes forever.